Passing Fancy

At the marketing/movie conference I attended earlier this week, one of the panelists said he had recently heard a client make the following comment to their agency:

"I honestly think this video on the web is a passing fancy. Nobody watches video on their computers. It's a kid thing. So I'm going to take this money and put it in direct mail."

According to the panelist, this comment was made within the last 6 weeks, not back in 2001. Why would a client say this? Are they uninformed? Not savvy? Stupid?

Or maybe their agency just hasn't given them creative that makes its own case.

Cast Your Vote

Jim and I are trying to make the blog as effective and helpful as possible. So we've added a poll to the site.

If you read Makin' Ads through an RSS feed, click over to the main site every once in a while to let us know how we're doing. Or just post a comment and let us know what you'd like to see more/less of.

Make Your Book Cinematic

I just came back from a conference called "Marketing at the Movies." Whether or not you agree with ads running just before a movie you've paid $9.75 to see, the panelists and speakers made a pretty convincing argument that there will be more and more in-theater promotions in the years ahead. Like it or not. Ads are already online, on your mobile phone, in the airport security bins. In the theater, we're a captive audience. We're an untapped resource. And that's too tempting for most marketers to pass up.

I've never seen a theater-centric campaign in a student book. Or any book for that matter. I'm not talking about doing ads for Iron Man or Crystal Skull. But what would you do if one of your regular clients said, "We've made a deal to advertise inside all Cinemark Theaters." What would you do? (Assuming the partnership made sense.)

Sure, you'd probably do a nice 60-second trailer before the movie. But what would you have in the lobby? Would you do posters? What would the popcorn bags look like? Would there be anything in the popcorn? Would anything happen after the movie? Does it extend to the restrooms? The parking lot? Is there a web component?

A lot of your will be graduating next month. I'm not encouraging you to take a print ad and retrofit it for an AMC lobby. But if you're still working on your book, it's a definite opportunity to do something unique and maybe really smart. And if your book's getting printed and bound, it's something to keep in the back of your mind when you're actually getting paid to come up with ideas.

For a little inspiration, check out Newsbreaker, one of the more interesting pieces showcased at the conference. Crazy technology. But in a book, all you'd have to do is show a comp and a quick sentence explaining what it is and how it works.

Timeless > Innovative

It’s actually more important to be timeless than innovative…The obsession with innovation is way overdone. The really important thing is the clarity of the concept.

- Noam Murro

Q: Do you agree with this? That timelessness trumps innovation? If so, how does it apply to the concepts you're doing for your book?

I can tell when you’re slacking. Can you?

Having seen a lot of student books I can usually tell when someone just gave up.

The copy is flat and lifeless. The layout isn’t crisp or inviting. The idea is devoid of insight.

I worked with a guy who gave up easily. He’d do one or two layouts. Once he did a campaign and failed to realize he was using different fonts for each ad. He didn’t polish an idea. He put it together as quickly as possible so he could be home at a decent time.

I’m not saying you need to give up time with friends. Or that you have to work until 9pm every night two weeks straight. Or that you have to craft something down to the very finest detail.

But sometimes you do.

And most of the time it makes all the difference in the world.

The Bar

When I was a student, I thought creative directors wanted to see ads that looked like they could win awards. I thought that was a high bar. I used to open up a One Show, CA or D&AD after completing a campaign and ask myself if it were good enough to appear in those pages.

Now, having flipped through countless student books and having observed co-workers do the same, I realize we're not looking for ads that might win a Pencil.

We're looking for ads that make us jealous.

We're looking for ads we wish we had in our own books.

We're looking for ads that honestly make us think, "I wish I'd done that."

That's your bar. I wish I could tell you how to reach it. All I can tell you that the easiest way to never reach it is to tell yourself that your campaign is "good enough."

Portfolio Night 6

A chance for you to spend the evening showing your work to and getting feedback from some of the top names in the business.

Thursday, May 8

21 different cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. (Santiago, Auckland, and Istanbul are also available if you're roadtripping.)

When I was in portfolio school, the One Show Student Festival (which Portfolio Night has effectively replaced) was an annual highlight. I'd take the midnight bus from Richmond to New York, wake up seven hours later in Manhattan and spend the afternoon showing my book to people like Mike Shine, Bob Barrie, Sally Hogshead and Jamie Barrett. Not bad people to get opinions from.

Bonus why (for denizens of the greater Chicagoland area):
This year, I'll be reviewing books in Chicago. Come to my table and mention this blog and receive a free something. (Haven't figured out what it is yet. I'm thinking mini Hershey bars or maybe some old radio scripts.)

Click here to locate a city and to buy tickets.

Charlton Heston Memorial Party

I’ve worked with some tough clients. Some have acted irrationally. Others with distrust and even distain.

But none were as tough as Pope Julius II.

It wasn't that he was demanding. It was that he kept changing his mind. He had wild, ephemeral expectations, but gave little concrete direction. He probably coined the phrase, "I don't know what I want, but I'll know it when I see it."

He considered himself a great patron of the arts. He did much to beautify Rome, laid the foundation of St. Peter's Basillica, and was a friend of Raphael and Bramante. So even though he wasn't a craftsman, couldn't paint, sculpt or design, he thought he knew great art better than those producing it.

To compound the problem, Pope Julius II was more concerned for his own personal fame as a member of the family of della Rovere (i.e., personal glory) than for the advancement of the influence and authority of the Roman Catholic Church (i.e., the brand).

Each of you will probably have a Pope Julius II sometime in your careers. Maybe several of them. Ridiculous. Egotistic. Impossible-to-please.

Here's the thing. This is what Michaelangelo did for this impossible-to-please client:

This weekend, if you're planning your Charlton Heston Memorial Bash, I suggest you skip The Ten Commandments and check out The Agony and the Ecstasy, the movie based on Irving Stone's biography of Michaelangelo.

It will show you that if you’re not doing great work, you shouldn't blame the client. Michaelangelo didn’t.

My book is my boss.

A couple of posts ago I asked "Who will you work for?" My answer (which most of you hit on in some form or another) is this:

I work for my book.

It sounds selfish. Ego-centric. A little self-absorbed. But it's the only answer I've found that really makes sense to me.

When I work for my book...

I win. Because I know I'm pushing myself creatively, and I'm more likely to end up with a breakthrough idea. If my end result doesn't garner any awards, I'll still know that I didn't phone it in, and I'm that much sharper for the next assignment.

The agency wins. For all the reasons listed above. The agency gets another number by its name in the index of the One Show and/or I've become that more valuable to the office as an employee.

My creative director wins. For all the reasons heretofore listed.

The client wins. I can't do great creative if the client's not benefiting from the effort. It's not creative if it doesn't sell. And it probably won't sell if it's not creative. Also, outside the industry, when a great ad appears, it's the client who becomes famous, not you. Happy to live with that.

Your alma matter wins. No matter what portfolio school you went to, they get to say that you went there as a recruiting device.

The industry wins.
I think we'd all agree at least 90% of the advertising out there is garbage. Work for your book and you'll automatically be in the top 10%. Better yet, you can be part of the effort to push the percentage of bad advertising down to 89%.

My bank account wins. Keep your eye on the ball. But, yes, this too will be affected.

Work for your book. It's the only thing guaranteed to follow you to the next gig.

Throwing Your Minibook Into A Black Hole

When a minibook comes into an agency at the wrong time (i.e. the agency doesn't have that position available), or it's not good enough to get the person a job and not bad enough to get trashed directly, it ends up in a black hole of sorts--a drawer, a pile, a file, a broom closet. At my agency, we have a box.

Today we had agency-wide spring cleaning and I had the pleasure of going through that box to see if there were any books we should hang onto. I thought I'd pass along a few observations to help keep your book from getting tossed directly into the black hole.

A minibook's packaging will not get you a job. What's inside it will get you a job. If you do something "memorable" with your book's packaging, make sure it's not memorable for the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, I see too many students spend 2 years putting their book together and then at the last minute slap some lame joke on the cover. Smart ads are smart ads. Jokes, themes, and gimmicks are very subjective. Don't shoot yourself in the foot before you get to the good stuff.

So, with that in mind, here are a few guidelines:

1) Sloppy is not a good theme. Don't bind your book with corrugated cardboard and duct tape and scrawl your name in sharpie marker across the front. Don't clip all your ads loose into a clipboard. You may intend your garbage bag cover to say "I don't care about my cover because I spent all my time on my phat ads," but what it really says is "I don't care." Really, you're trying to start a career that's all about creating good impressions. Don't blow it with the very first impression you make.

2) If you're going to have a theme, have a reason for it. Thundercats, as big of an impact as they may have had on your early development, is probably not a good theme.

3) Crappy grade-school report covers or $4 photo albums from Wal-Mart are not good things to use for your book. I know it sucks, especially on a student budget, to shell out $150 printing and binding nice, color books. But believe me, once you get a job with a paycheck, you'll be glad you did.

4) Skip the clever sayings and platitudes on your cover. You can't go wrong with your "JOE PENCIL, COPYWRITER."

5) Photos of you doing a funny dance belong on your myspace page, not on your portfolio cover.

6) It's called a minibook because it's smaller than traditional carry-around portfolios. Don't be a wiseguy and make your book the size of a toenail. Get it! It's mini! It's a MINI BOOK! Black hole.

7) Forget everything you learned in your business class about cover letters. I saw one today that STARTED OFF by saying something like "I would be a great asset to your agency because I have a versatile skill set, am dependably task-oriented, and possess a wide range of communication achievement GPA resume blah blah blah." a) Get over yourself. b) Who talks like this? You're not applying to business school. Include a short, sweet note that introduces yourself, says what you're interested in, maybe mentions some of the agency's work that you like (if that's true), and thanks the person for their time.

8) A simple resume with your education, experience, awards if applicable, and contact info should be IN the back of your book (loose ones tend to get lost). A FEW personal details are okay if you want, but this is not the place to try out your comedy monologue. Nowhere on your resume should it say anything as dumb as "good with people."

In the end, a simple, spiral-bound book, printed on a decent printer at a reasonable size (somewhere between 8.5"x11" and 11"x17") with a simple, tasteful cover will say all you need to say. Namely, the work inside speaks for itself.

Hey Peggy, Go to Ad School!

Graduation time is coming up, and every year I talk to a handful of students graduating from undergrad ad programs who want to be writers or art directors. Most of them, like me when I finished college, have had maybe 2-3 creative classes in their advertising curriculum and have a shaky book (alright, mine was worse than shaky).

I recommend to these students that they go to one of the many portfolio programs. Their reaction ranges from taking offense to breaking down and sobbing for twenty minutes. Then they say:

Do I have to?

Of course you don’t have to. LeBron James didn’t go to college. He jumped right into the NBA. So if you’re the LeBron James of advertising, go for it. But you know what? LeBron James played basketball his whole life. He had a better jumpshot than God and could flick dimes off the top of the backboard (so they say). If you've got that kind of natural talent, heck, skip college.

But here’s the big thing to mull over: agencies will look at your portfolio, and they’ll compare it to the other portfolios of other students and junior-level writers and art directors looking for jobs. Agencies don’t care whether you have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree or third-degree black belt. They want to see your book. So your book is competing against other books. People who go to ad schools and portfolio programs usually spend two years focusing just on their books. That’s it.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the book that’s been in the gym for two years straight, shooting free throws, running gassers, doing squats.

The only undergrad program I know of that consistently turns out books that can compete with the portfolio program books is the University of Texas. Something in the water there, I guess.

Can I get a job at the bottom answering phones and work my way up? You mean like Peggy on Mad Men? I guess, but that’s a tough road, and when you ask around at the agency you're answering phones for to see if you can work on assignments, you’ll probably be told to go to ad school.

Can you get a job at a not-so-good agency and work on your book there then move on to a better job? Sure. But by the time you do get to the position you want, you could probably have gone to school and would be ahead of where you are. Same goes for money. Though we've said repeatedly that money shouldn’t be a consideration when you take your first job, if you can swing a school loan, you’ll be better off in the long run.

So do you need to go to portfolio school? No. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.